The Real News Network on Whistleblowing, Part 2

Part Two of my recent interview on the excellent, independent and fearless Real News Network:

A new threat to media freedoms

Writers of the world, beware.  A new threat to our freedom of speech is looming and, for once, I am not inveighing against the Official Secrets Act.  

Over recent years the UK has rightly earned a pungent reputation as the libel capital of the world. And now it appears that this wonderful practice is going "offshore".

How did this whole mess begin?  It turned out that someone in the Middle East could take exception to a book written and published about them in the USA.   US law, somewhat surprisingly considering its current parlous state, provided no route to sue.   However, some bright legal spark decided that the UK courts could be used for redress, provided the offending book had been sold in the UK – even if only a handful of second-hand books had been sold over – and Mr Justice Eady helped the process along magnificently.  

And so was born the concept of "libel tourism".  Satirical current affairs magazine Private Eye has long been campaigning against this, other UK news outlets gradually followed suit, and the UK government is finally taking steps to rein in these egregious, if lucrative, legal practices.  

3_wise_monkeysBut, hey, that's precisely when your offshore crown dependencies, otherwise known as British tax havens, come into their own.  The UK has for years turned a blind eye to the dubious financial practices of these islands, the most geographically convenient being the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, where the attitude to self-regulation makes the practices of the Square Mile look positively Vestal.

Now it appears that Guernsey is looking to become a hub of another lucrative offshore practice: libel tourism.  

Guernsey has its own parliament – the States –  and can make its own laws.  So as the libel door closes on the UK mainland, a firm of offshore tax lawyers has identified a wonderful business opportunity. 

Jason Romer is the managing partner and intellectual property specialist at the large "wealth management" legal firm Collas Crill.  According to his firm's website, he also, coincidentally, sits on the island's Commercial IP Steering Group and the Drafting Sub-Committee, and is thus conveniently on hand to steer the new legislation through the States.

Hogarth_judgeAlso coincidentally, he appears to be an enthusiastic advocate of Eady's infamous "super-injunction" regime which has had such a chillingly expensive effect on the British media in the last decade.

So, if this law is passed, anyone, anywhere around the world will be able (if they can afford it) to register their "image rights" in Guernsey.  These rights can even last indefinitely after the original owner's death.

This means that anyone, anywhere, who feels that their "image" has been inappropriately reproduced/copied/pirated – the correct legal terminology is hazy –  can then sue through the Guernsey courts for redress.  This could potentially be a powerful new global tool for the suppression of free speech.  As public outcry swells internationally against the US IP laws, SOPA and PIPA, and across Europe against the utterly undemocratic ACTA, this new law is a giant leap precisely in the wrong direction.  

Guernsey, my island of birth, has changed out of all recognition over the last thirty years.  Ever since the 1980s infestation of offshore bankers and trust fund lawyers, it has been tarmac-ed over by greed and social division. Before then it was proud of its egalitarianism, Norman-French heritage, beautifully anachronistic pace of life, and an economy based on tomatoes and tourism.

Now, if this law is passed, it will be known for its economy based on rotten financial apples and offshore libel tourism.

I just wanted to get that out of my system now – while I can still freely express my thoughts and before the island can sue me for damaging its "image rights"…. 

DoubleThink Disorder – a new pathology

An update is apparently due of the 1994 edition of the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders", the psychiatrists' bible that allows them to tick-box their patients into a disorder, and then, no doubt, prescribe Big Pharma industry drugs or an expensive form of therapy.  Anyone who has ever watched Adam Curtis's excellent "Century of Self" will be aware of the pathologising of society to the benefit of the psychiatric professions and far beyond.

I am not making light of serious mental illnesses requiring specialised and long term treatment such as bipolar, schizophrenia or chronic depression.  These are crippling and soul-destroying conditions and many families, including my own, have been touched by them.

RitalinBut I am concerned by the appalling Pharma-creep that has been going on over the last few decades where, for example, increasing numbers of children are labeled with ADHD and ladled full of Ritalin (which can also lead to a thriving black market in the onward sale of said drug). And we are apparently about to see ever more divaricating disorders added to the shrinks' bible.  

Kevin_and_PerryAs this recent article in The Independent states, stroppy teens will now have "oppositional defiance disorder", and adults who think of sex more than every 20 minutes are suffering from "hypersexual disorder". (How on earth will this be diagnosed – will potential sufferers have to keep a thought crime diary as they go about their daily lives? Management meetings could be so much more diverting as people break off to write an update every so often – although they might have to pretend they're playing buzzword bingo.)   And those suffering from shyness or loneliness will suffer from "dysthymia".  Well, as a classicist, I'm glad to see that ancient Greek still has a role to play in today's lexicon.

I know that such behavioural traits can be debilitating, but to pathologise them seems rather extreme – enough to give a person a complex…..

Ivory_tower2On another somewhat facetious note I was intrigued to see this doing the internet rounds recently.  It appeared to suggest that having a robust distrust of your government was also about to be pathologised as Anti-Government Phobia, which I presume would mean that vast swathes of the world's population were mentally ill.  However, I think the clue to the legitimacy of the piece was in the name of the supposed author: Ivor E. Tower MD…..

However, back to the point of this article. This was the paragraph in the Indie report that really got my goat:

"More worrying, according to some experts, are attempts to redefine crimes as illnesses, such as "paraphilic coercive disorder", applied to men engaged in sexual relationships involving the use of force. They are more commonly known as rapists."

So it appears that crime will now be explained away as a disorder.  

LEAP_logoBut, but, but…. the key point LEAPing out at me, if you'll forgive the clumsy link, is that this seems to be in direct, sharp contrast to how we deal with an immense and ongoing problem in the world today: namely the 50 year old failed "war on drugs".  In this phoney war millions of people across the world have been, and against all expert advice, continue to be treated as criminals rather than as patients.

Rather than rehash (sorry) all the well-known articles about why this war is such a failure on every conceivable front, let me just make three key points: prohibition will always fail (as this classic "Yes Minister" scene depicts), and the regulation and taxation of recreational drugs (in the same way as alcohol and tobacco) would be good for society and for the economy; it would decapitate organised crime and, in some cases, the funding of terrorism; and, most pertinently for the purposes of this article, it would make the use and possible abuse of recreational drugs a health issue rather than a criminal matter.

Many people at some point in their lives experiment with drugs such as dope, E, coke, or whatever and have fun doing so, just as many like to have a drink to unwind after work.  A small percentage will go on to develop medical problems.  

That is the crux of the argument here. Excessive abuse of drugs, both licit and illicit, is manifestly a health issue and yet some people are criminalised.  Compare and contrast the proposed new shrinks' bible, where what were formerly deemed to be crimes will now be seen as medical disorders.

Tony_BlairI would call this rank hypocrisy, but perhaps the shrinks can come up with a more high-brow name?  I propose Societal DoubleThink Disorder.  

The Bankers' Bonus being that it would conveniently (psycho)pathologise all our "peace-speaking" war-mongering politicians, "free market" monopolistic big businesses, and "publicly owned but private profit" banks.

Praise the Government and pass the Ritalin….

“Subversion” old and new

Abu_Qatada_CartoonAn interesting article in yesterday’s Telegraph by political commentator Peter Oborne about Abu Qatada.  This case has caused much sound and fury amongst the British political and media classes over the last couple of days.  Oborne’s article strips out the bombast and takes us back to basic principles – as did this other recent article in the Independent a day or two ago by Christina Patterson.

However, what really grabbed my attention in Oborne’s article was his reference to David Maxwell Fyfe, the British politician and lawyer who was tasked by Sir Winston Churchill to lay the foundations of the European system of human rights after the atrocities of World War Two – a period when the need for basic rights was seared into people’s minds.

Maxwell_FyfeWhile Maxwell Fyfe laid some good foundations for European law, his name also has resonance to all who worked for the UK domestic Security Service, MI5, during or in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War.  It was Maxwell Fyfe’s directive, issued in 1952, that was instrumental in allowing MI5 to spy on British political activists subversives.  This directive remained in place until 1989, when MI5 was placed on a legal footing for the first time in its then 80 year history, with the Security Service Act 1989. Here is a segment about the Maxwell Fyfe directive from my old book, “Spies, Lies and Whistleblowers“:

Background to subversion

At this time MI5 was still using the same criteria for recording individual subversives and their sympathisers as was set out by Home Secretary David Maxwell-Fyfe in 1952.  He called on the services to identify any individual engaged in undermining Parliamentary democracy, national security and/or the economic well-being of the UK by violent, industrial or political means.  In fact, many would argue that groups who used only political means to get their point across were merely exercising their democratic rights.  In fact, MI5 used photos of demonstrations, copies of election lists and even lists of subscribers to radical left-wing book clubs as indicators of subversive sympathy and membership.  Of course, the world was a very different place when I joined the section, almost 40 years after Maxwell-Fyfe’s declaration, not least because of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and its Eastern bloc allies.  

TrotskyFrom Maxwell-Fyfe’s statement to Parliament, which was never made law, MI5 and subsequent governments used to argue that all members of certain parties –such as the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) or later the bewildering array of Trotskyists, with names like the International Marxist Group (IMG), Workers’ Revolutionary Party (WRP) Major and Minor, Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) and Revolutionary Communist Group (RCG), anarchists and the extreme right — were threats to the security of the state or our democratic system.  This in itself is a contentious proposition.  None of these Trotskyist groups was cultivating Eastern bloc finance or building bombs in smoky back rooms, but were instead using legitimate democratic methods to make their case, such as standing in elections, organising demonstrations and educating ‘the workers’.  They certainly had no allegiance to a foreign power, the primary raison d’etre for the investigation of subversion, because, unlike the Communist Party, they abhorred the Eastern bloc.

Greenham-commonSince MI5 was effectively investigating individuals for holding opinions the government did not like — a very un-British position — it was always at pains to point out that it took its responsibilities with regard to human rights very seriously, although not seriously enough to ensure that these activities were regulated by a legal framework.  All the service’s phone taps prior to the passing of the Interception of Communications Act (IOCA) in 1985 were unlawful because there was no legislation governing the interception of communications.”

The directive was not a legally binding document, but it was the basis for the work of F Branch, MI5’s massive section tasked with hunting “subversives” during those decades.  It allowed intelligence officers great latitude in interpreting what was deemed subversive activity and who were “legitimate’ targets.  And yet there were many, many instances of the abuse of this system by paranoid, senior intelligence officers over the years.  More information can be found in this chapter on subversion from the book.

So my point is, yes, Britain ostensibly led the way in developing a system to protect human rights in the aftermath of the Second World War.  But the very architect of that system then produced the directive that gave British spies carte blanche to investigate political dissidents within their own country, which they abused for decades.

Mark_KennedyAnd now we have commentators rightly saying that we should uphold basic human rights’ values in cases such as Abu Qatada.  But what about all the UK activists who were illegally investigated by MI5 from 1952 to the 1990s? And, more pertinently today, what about all the activists and protesters who have been aggressively spied upon by the unaccountable, undercover police of the NPOIU since the 1990s, under the illegal category of “domestic extremists“?

I was heartened to see 87 year old artist and peace activist John Catt is suing the NPOIU for intrusive surveillance over the last 6 years.  Perhaps he should quote Maxwell Fyfe on human rights during his case?

A Tale of Two Cases

Abu_QatadaThe first case, the one hitting the headlines this week, is that of Jordanian-born alleged terrorist supremo Abu Qatada, who arrived in the UK using a forged passport almost 20 years ago and claimed asylum, and has already been found guilty twice in absentia of terrorist attacks in Jordan. He is reportedly also wanted in seven other countries for terrorist-related offences.  He has been labeled Bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, and over the last few years in the UK has been variously interned, placed under control order, and held in maximum security prisons.  

The UK courts ruled that he should be deported to stand trial in his native country, but these rulings were recently overturned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), as it had concerns that Jordanian diplomatic assurances that he would not be tortured could not be relied on, and that evidence against him in any retrial there might have been obtained using torture. 

MATT_CartoonAs a result, Mr Justice Mitting of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) has ruled that he should be released under a strict T-PIM (the new control order).  This decision has predictably roused the frothing wrath of the Home Office and the readership of the Daily Mail.  Politicians of all flavours have rushed out their sound bites condemning the ECtHR decision.  

But can they not see that it is the complacency and the very disdain for law that the British political and intelligence infrastructure has displayed for the last decade that has created this mess in the first place?  If, instead of kidnapping, torture, assassination, and indeed internment without trial within the UK, the rule of law had been followed, the country would not currently find itself in this legal quagmire.  

There used to be a notion that you used due process to investigate a terrorist suspect as you would any other suspected criminal: gather the evidence, present the case to the Crown Prosecution Service, hold a trial in front of a jury, and work towards a conviction. 

How quaintly old-fashioned that all seems today.  Instead, since 9/11 and the inception of the hysterically brutal "war on terror" led by the USA, we have seen people in the UK thrown into prison for years on the secret word of anonymous intelligence officers, where even the suspects' lawyers are not allowed to see the information against their clients.  The British legal system has become truly Kafkaesque.

Which leads me to the second case.  This was a quote in yesterday's Guardian about the Abu Qatada ruling:

"The Conservative backbencher Dominic Raab echoed Blunkett's anger: "This result is a direct result of the perverse ruling by the Strasbourg court. It makes a mockery of human rights law that a terrorist suspect deemed 'dangerous' by our courts can't be returned home, not for fear that he might be tortured, but because European judges don't trust the Jordanian justice system.""

Julian_assangeIn the case of Julian Assange, can we really trust the Swedish justice system? While the Swedish judicial system may have an ostensibly more fragrant reputation than that of Jordan, it has been flagrantly politicised and manipulated in the Assange case, as has been repeatedly well documented. Indeed, the Swedish justice system has the highest rate per capita of cases taken to the ECtHR for flouting Article 6 – the right to a fair trial.

If Assange were extradited merely for questioning by police – he has yet to be even charged with any crime in Sweden – there is a strong risk that the Swedes will just shove him straight on the next plane to the US under the legal terms of a "temporary surrender".  And, to bastardise the above quote, who now really trusts the American justice system?

A secret Grand Jury has been convened in Virginia to find a law – any law – with which to prosecute Assange.  Hell, if the Yanks can't find an existing law, they will probably write a new one just for him.

Forget about the fact that Wikileaks is a ground-breaking new form of high-tech journalism that has exposed corrupt practices across the world over the years.  The US just wants to make an example of Assange in retaliation for the embarrassment he has caused by exposing US double dealing and war crimes over the last decade, and no doubt as a dreadful example to deter others.  

Bradley_Manning_2The alleged Wikileaks source, US soldier Private Bradley Manning, has been kept in inhumane and degrading conditions for well over a year and will now be court-martialed.  The general assumption is that this process was designed to break him, so that he would implicate Assange and possibly other Wikileaks associates.  

In my view, that means that any US trial of Assange could essentially be relying on evidence obtained under torture.  And if Assange is extradited and and judicially rendered to the US, he too will face torturous conditions.

So, to summarise, on the one hand we have a man who is wanted in eight countries for terrorist offences, has already been convicted twice in his home country, but who cannot be extradited.

And on the other hand we have a man who has not been charged, tried or convicted of anything, but is merely wanted for questioning on minor and apparently trumped up charges in another country, yet who has also been imprisoned in solitary confinement and held under house arrest.  And it looks like the British authorities are happy to collude in his extradition.

Both these men potentially face a mistrial and both may potentially experience what is now euphemistically known as "degrading and inhumane treatment".

But because one faces being sent back to his home country – now seen for the purposes of his case as a banana republic with a corrupt judicial system that relies on evidence extracted under torture – he shall probably not be extradited.  However, the other faces being sent to an alien country well known as a beacon of civil rights and fair judicial system oops, sorry, as a banana republic with a corrupt judicial system that relies on evidence extracted under torture.

A_Tale_of_Two_CitiesThe UK has become a legal laughing stock around the world and our judicial framework has been bent completely out of shape by the requirements of the "war on terror" and the rapidly developing corporate fascism of our government.  

The UK is currently celebrating the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens.  Perhaps the time has come to pause and think about some of the issues he discussed in one of his best-known novels, "A Tale of Two Cities".  Do we want our country to slide further down the path of state terrorism – a phrase adopted from the original Grande Terreur of the French Revolution? 

We need to seize back our basic rights, the due process of law, and justice.

One man’s terrorist is another man’s activist

Here we go again.  In this heartwarming article in today’s Guardian newspaper, British MPs on the Home Affairs Committee have decided that the internet is the most significant factor in the radicalisation of violent extremists and conclude that Something Must Be Done.

One paragraph leapt out at me:

The Commons home affairs committee says internet service providers need to be as effective at removing material that promotes violent extremism as they are in removing content that is sexual or breaches copyright.” (My emphasis.)

Anti_SOPA_cartoonMost of us are aware of the recent dogfight in the US about the proposed SOPA and PIPA laws to crack down on copyright infringement and, as a result, there is a somewhat belated but steadily increasing outcry in Europe about the imminent imposition of ACTA across the continent.  

I have written before about how such laws provide the military-intelligence complex with the perfect stalking horse for a panoptic surveillance state, and the campaigning writer, Cory Doctorow, summed it up beautifully when he wrote that “you can’t make a system that prevents spying by secret police and allows spying by media giants“.

And, lo, it is now apparently coming to pass.  The Parliamentary half-wits are now proposing to use commercial legislation such as the utterly undemocratic ACTA as a benchmark for countering potential terrorists and extremists.  Might they have failed to notice the plethora of existing counter-terrorism and eavesdropping legislation, put in place for this very purpose and already much used and abused by a wide range of public bodies in the UK?

This yet again highlights the mission-creepy Big Brother corporatist group-think.  Rather than having to spell it out in boring old linear text, here is some useful linkage – what I like to think of as 3-D writing: 

Protester = activist = domestic extremist = violent extremist = terrorist  


I’m sure you can see where I am heading.  To name but a few notorious abuses, we already live in a world where western governments and spy agencies collude in the kidnapping, torture and assassination of alleged terrorist suspects; the NDAA now endorses these practices within the US; British police spy on innocent protest groups for years; legitimate protesters can be “kettled“, beaten up and maced; activists can be pre-emptively arrested as easily in the UK as in Syria; and where American politicians want to designate the high-tech publishing organisation Wikileaks as a terrorist group.

There is an old aphorism that one man’s terrorist was another man’s freedom fighter.  I think the time has come for an update:

One man’s terrorist is another man’s activist.  

And we are all increasingly at risk. 

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism article

Here is a recent article I wrote for The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, about our slide into a surveillance state.  

TBIJ supported Wikileaks during the release of the SpyFiles. The issue is of such crucial importance for our democracy, I was disappointed that more of the mainstream media did not follow up on the stories provided.

Here’s the text:

Analysis: the slide into a surveillance state

Fifty years ago, President Eisenhower warned of the ‘disastrous rise’ of the military-industrial complex. His fears proved all too accurate.

Now in the post-9/11 world, the threat goes even further: the military-industrial complex is evolving into the military-intelligence complex. It is a world, I fear, that is propelling us into a dystopian surveillance nightmare.

I have seen this nightmare unfold from close quarters. In the mid-90s I was an intelligence officer for MI5, the UK domestic security service. That is, until I resigned to help my former partner and colleague David Shayler blow the whistle on a catalogue of incompetence, cover-ups and crimes committed by spies. We naively hoped that this would lead to an inquiry, and a review of intelligence work and accountability within the notoriously secretive British system.

The blunders and illegal operations that we witnessed in our six years at MI5 took place at what is probably the most ethical and accountable decade in the British spying service’s 100-year history.

Even then, they were getting away with pretty much whatever they wanted.

Since the attacks of 9/11, I have watched with increasing dismay as more powers, money and resources have been pumped into the international intelligence community to combat the nebulous ‘war on terror’. As a result, civil liberties have been eroded in our own countries, and countless innocent people have been killed, maimed and displaced across the Middle East.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which was designed to allow our spy agencies to lawfully intercept our communications to counter terrorism and organised crime, has been routinely used and abused by almost 800 public bodies. MI5 admitted to making 1,061 mistakes or ‘administrative errors’ this year alone in its application of RIPA, according to the Interception of Communications Commissioner, Sir Paul Kennedy.

Intelligence creep extends to the police, as we saw with the undercover police scandal earlier this year, where the unaccountable National Public Order Intelligence Unit was discovered to be infiltrating harmless and legitimate protest groups for years on end.

It is a world, I fear, that is propelling us into a dystopian surveillance nightmare.

Even beyond the undercover cops, we have seen an explosion in corporate spying. This involves mercenary spy companies such as Xe (formerly Blackwater), Kroll, Aegis and Diligence offering not just security muscle in hotspots around the world, but also bespoke operations enabling big corporations to check out staff or to infiltrate and investigate protest groups that may embarrass the companies.

The mercenary spy operates without any oversight whatsoever, and can even be granted immunity from prosecution, as Xe enjoyed when operating in Iraq.

The last decade has also been a boom time for companies providing high-tech surveillance capabilities. One aspect of this in the UK – the endemic CCTV coverage – is notorious. Local councils have invested in mobile CCTV smart spy cars, while cameras that bark orders to you on the street have been trialled in Middlesbrough.

Drones are increasingly used for aerial surveillance – and the potential for militarisation of these tools is clear.

All this despite the fact that the head of the Metropolitan Police department that is responsible for processing all this surveillance information stated publicly that CCTV evidence is useless in helping to solve all but 3% of street robberies in London. In fact, since CCTV has been rolled out nationally, violent crime on the streets of Britain has increased.

But, hey, who cares about facts when security is Big Business? Someone, somewhere, is getting very rich by rolling out ever more Orwellian surveillance technology. And while the technology might not be used against the wider UK citizenry in a particularly malignant manner – yet – the same companies are certainly allowing their technologies to find their way to the more violent and repressive Middle Eastern states.

That would never happen in Britain – would it? We retain an optimistic faith in the long-term benign intentions of our government, while tut-tutting over Syrian police snatch squads pre-emptively arresting suspected dissidents. Yet this has already happened in the UK: before the royal wedding in April, protesters were pre-emptively arrested to ensure that they would not cause embarrassment. The intent is the same in Syria and Britain. Only the scale and brutality differs – at the moment.

When I worked for MI5 in the 1990s I was appalled how easily telephone interception could be used illegally, and how easily the spies could hide their incompetence and crimes from the government. In the last decade it has become much worse, with senior spies and police officers repeatedly being caught out lying to the toothless Intelligence and Security Committee in Parliament. And this is only the official intelligence sector.

How much worse is the endemic surveillance carried out by the corporate spy industry?

The balance of power, bolstered by new technologies, is shifting overwhelmingly in favour of the Big Brother state – well, almost. The WikiLeaks model is helping level the playing field, and whatever happens to this trailblazing organisation, the principles and technology are out there and will be replicated. This genie cannot be put back in the bottle. This – combined with the work of informed MPs, investigative journalists and potentially the occasional whistleblower – gives me hope that we can halt this slide into a Stasi state.

Annie Machon is a former spy with MI5, the British intelligence agency working to protect the UK’s national security against threats such as terrorism and espionage.
You can read Annie Machon’s blog ‘Using Our Intelligence’ here.

The Big Dig Journalism Conference, Copenhagen

I recently did the opening keynote at the Big Dig investigative journalism conference in Copenhagen.  Thanks to the organisers for a wonderful weekend!


Mediafabric talk, Prague, October 2011

Last October I had the pleasure of speaking at the excellent Mediafabric conference in Prague.  The focus of my talk was the future of intelligence, whistleblowing and journalism.

The event was organised by Sourcefabric, an international organisation that provides open source tools and solutions for journalists, so it was an eclectic and stimulating crowd of journalists, geeks, hacktavists and designers.   So well done and thank you to the organisers.

Here’s the video:

Speaking at Mediafabric Conference, Prague, 21 October


Off tomorrow to speak at the Mediafabric conference in Prague. 

Should be a good one – all about the media, journalists, technologists, designers, hackers,  and all points in between!

The conference has been organised by Sourcefabric, and there will be live streaming here.

Journalists need to wise up to secrecy laws


I had a fantastic time at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Kiev last weekend.  A huge  well done to the organisers for a great four days, and I loved having the chance to meet so many interesting and interested people from across the world!

I was invited to give the opening keynote speech (video to follow), where I discussed some of my experiences from the MI5 whistleblowing years, but then went on to apply the harsh lessons learned to the current situation vis a vis the issue of spy influence on the media today and the thorny issue of whistleblowing and the protection of sources.

Part of my talk focused on the control of the media by the spies in Britain.  As I have written before, this is very much a “carrot and stick” scenario: the soft aspect, of course, being cosy chats with selected journalists, well-timed career-enhancing scoops, as well as an increasingly unhealthy journalistic dependence on briefings coming out of the intelligence world and government.

The stick aspect includes the battery of harsh laws that can be called upon to suppress free reporting in the UK, which sometimes leads to self-censorship by the media.  These laws include:

Beginning_of_trialHow do I know all this?  Well, as you can see from many of the links in the above list, I’ve lived through much of this and have followed with great interest similar and related cases over the years.  More information about these issues can be found in this excellent report produced by Article 19 and Liberty over a decade ago.  The situation has not improved.

While in Kiev I attended an excellent session where two Russian journalists discussed the ramifications of reporting on the modern incarnation of the Russian intelligence agency, the FSB.

I was somewhat startled to hear that even in Russia journalists have more legal protection than those in the UK – ie they face no criminal legal sanction if they report whistleblower material from the Russian spy agencies.  In the UK journalists potentially face 2 years in prison for doing so, under the invidious Section 5 of the 1989 OSA.

Way to go, British democracy.